Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Why youth ministry matters-a lot. My day at Dayton High School.

I moved a few times growing up and have very vivid memories of being at school, in the lobby or cafeteria or at a ball game, in the early days of being the new kid,  not knowing anyone and trying to stand around in such away that hid that. Looking like I was merely in between talking to someone, instead of in the middle of a half hour, or hour, or day completely alone. Pretending that I was super interested in reading the announcement posted on the wall, or looking at the trophies in the trophy case, or, if I were a teenager now, that I was absorbed with some message or text on my iphone.

That was a HORRIBLE experience, and with each move, I was so utterly relieved when I didn't have to do it anymore. When I finally had friends.

George Fox University, where I teach, takes a day every fall where everyone on campus, from the President to each freshman goes to various sites in our area to serve. This year, I was assigned with a group of students and staff to go to Dayton, a small town near Newberg, and help out with a day of games, activities and seminars the school was putting on for its 6th-12th graders. We were there for 5 hours and got to watch the entire school community (about 300 kids in the HS) as well as spending the day with one specific group of students as they moved from activity to another.

My group started with dodgeball. I'm 48, and wasn't sure how that would go. I probably haven't played dodgeball in 30 years or so. Surprisingly, it went just fine from my standpoint. I could still play a bit and got to interact with and joke with the kids in my group. At least, the ones who played. A couple didn't.

One girl in particular, sat at the top of the bleachers the entire hour we played and stared out a window, not even looking at the game going on in the gym. After the first game, I got a drink of water and climbed up the bleachers to invite her to play. She had no interest in joining in. As we moved to the next station, I tried to talk to her a bit more and find out who she was and maybe what she would like to take part in.

As the day progressed, she and I had a couple conversations. She plays the alto sax and is trying to learn how to play the bassoon. She read the Harry Potter books, but didn't really care about the movies. Things like that.

As time went on, I found myself watching and wondering about this young woman, a sophomore at this small school. As far as I could see, other than her brief conversations with me, she did not speak to anyone the rest of the day. At all. In fact, her peers would walk around her, and not even acknowledge that they saw her. I never saw anyone be rude or mean to her, they just didn't seem to realize that she existed.

One of the things that she told me in one of our conversations, was that she had lived in Dayton all her life. This girl who had no one to talk to-at all, who I watched stand awkwardly pretending she wasn't really alone during every free moment of the day, who had no safe, welcoming place to sit in the lunch room had lived with and gone to school with these kids every day of her educational life. Nine years.

The awkward pain I had felt with each move as a kid was mimicked as I watched her move through the day. For me, though, it lasted only a few months with each move and eventually ended. She's lived in this small town, with this small group of kids forever. This is all she's ever known.

So, does youth ministry matter? What about if it's not done "very well" by talented, beautiful, athletic adults who can bring in large numbers of A-list kids? Would a ministry be a success at Dayton High if it only had 15 or 20 of the 300 kids coming? I don't know, but I know this. ANY adult that would step onto the campus of that school and notice this young woman, and take the long time it likely would take to win her trust, and be patient with her awkward social skills and do all of this because they love Jesus would be someone doing ministry that matters deeply to the heart of God.

Jesus stopped on his way to Jarus' house, a big man in town with lots of influence, to hear the long-winded story of a homeless, unclean woman. Jesus would seek out and befriend and love this young woman in Dayton. Or, wherever you live, because there are kids like her everywhere!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Watering flowers, Oregon summers, and ministry.

I live in Oregon, where everyone thinks it rains all year round. It does rain a fair bit for 8 months or so, but some time around late June or early July, it just stops and often doesn't rain a drop here in Newberg until the end of September or early October. So, what do you do with all the flowers in your yard that have lushly grown during those rainy months?

What I do first, is watch them for a bit. I want to do my part from an environmental standpoint, so I don't just rush right out and start watering the first time we hit a few warm, dray days in June or July. I keep a bit of an eye on how they're doing. After a week or two, however, things start to brown up or wilt a bit, and I start watering. I do it kind of old school. Just me with my thumb over the open end of a green hose, for about 45 minutes most every evening after dinner.

This summer, I've been noticing some interesting things and they got me thinking about the way I do youth ministry. We've got a fair bit of garden in both our back and front yard and kind of a wild collection of assorted flowers in them. Every year, my wife plants a few new things that she's either bought or that have been given to her. Those get most of my attention. I've discovered over the years that that first dry summer is the hardest one for the new plants and making sure they make it through to the fall rains is my top priority. In fact, if I'm rushed at all, those are the only things I water.

This summer, we had rain a couple times in the first half of July. That's pretty rare here and because of it, I really laid off the watering for longer than normal. I even went a couple weeks after the last rain to make sure we'd really hit the dry season before I started in on watering everything. By the time I did, it seemed to me like most of our established flowers and plants had hunkered down for the heat. They didn't seem in danger of dying, but they'd quit flowering, had dropped a few leaves, browned a bit around the edges. Making it ok, but not really thriving.

And then, I started watering them every evening. After two weeks of daily watering now, I've noticed that yes, the new plants seem to be doing fine, but the old ones are perking up quite a bit. The rose bushes and all those other flowers whose names I don't know are growing some new leaves, budding forth with new rounds of flowers. It's a little second spring in the backyard! Clearly, while most of these plants and flowers were getting by with the minimal attention they were receiving, things were a whole lot better for them when I started giving them daily water and care.

Watering last night, I got to thinking about this and ministry. I've taken well over 20 years worth of kids to Young Life camps. And, if you have too, you know that feeling of coming home with kids that have just begun a relationship with Jesus. You REALLY want to follow up well with them and help them make it through the first few months. Lots of attention given, lots of care.

But, if you're like me, you've also got a ton of kids that have been around awhile. You don't worry much about them anymore. At least not often. They don't get lots of attention, particularly after camp. I mean, you've got to keep the new plants alive and so they get the time and the water, right? I've been thinking a lot this summer about why kids often start really well in our youth ministries and then fall away. I think one big reason is that we treat kids that aren't new a lot like I treat the "seasoned" plants in my yard. "Oh, they're doing fine. They've made it through the hard part. Sure, they're a little dried out and brown around the edges, but no need to worry about them particularly." Maybe they are ok, and will make it through without much attention from us, but just like ALL of the plants in our garden seem to be very happy that I'm giving them some daily attention and care, I believe this is true of kids in our ministries.

Just because a kids' parents are really established in the church, doesn't mean she's not struggling with stuff. Just because a kid has been consistently coming to Bible study for a year or two, doesn't mean that he doesn't have questions or doubts that gnaw at him. Just because a kid is a "junior leader," doesn't mean that he or she isn't depressed, or struggling with pornography or cutting or an eating disorder or...

One of the nicest things about watering all of our plants every evening is, I stand and notice each of them every evening. Notice changes from the day or week before. Notice weeds growing up around them that need pulling (now, whether that actually happens is another story).

Do we pay the same kind of attention to our non-new kids in ministry as we do to that "baby Christian?" Do we see them, notice them?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Parable of the Workers in the Field & what running teaches me about grace

I used to be a runner. Not a jogger, but a runner. 70+ miles a week. 7:00 miles as my easy day pace. Sub 3:00 marathons as standard business. That was a long time ago. In those days, I remember seeing "joggers" at races and feeling both a sense of pity and disdain. How could they call what they were doing 'running?' Wasn't it kind of sad they got all excited trotting home in their pathetically slow times? What is even the point of entering a 'race' if one is that horribly slow? Should they be allowed to wear the same race t-shirt as those of us who beat them home by 10-20 minutes? I used to jog back out the last couple miles of the course on my cooldown and think these (and other) uncharitable thoughts about the stragglers coming in.

I also used to dislike the Parable of the Workers in the Field found in Matthew 20. Seriously. I knew it must have some worth since it was in the Bible and all, but I totally related to the workers who get pissed off in it. They were the ones that showed up at the start of the day and put in a hard day's work and got the pay they agreed to. They are furious because a bunch of slackers that come along late in the afternoon and work for an hour got the same amount of pay. These slackers didn't deserve a full day's pay! I didn't want to admit it, but I really resonated with them and couldn't figure out just why Jesus thought they had a bad attitude.

Well, a few things have happened in the intervening years. From a running standpoint, I've kind of fallen apart. I've developed some arthritis in my right hip that significantly limits its range of motion and causes various muscular problems. And, I'm a good deal bigger now than when I ran all those miles at sub 7:00 pace. Spiritually, I've failed a lot more now than in my early days as a Christian. I've discovered that my ability to "get it right" spiritually, is virtually non-existent. I've had ministry failures in Young Life, seen relationships gone bad, and witnessed first hand the ways in which my selfishness and weakness can hurt my wife and children.

I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere around a decade ago, I started using the Parable of the Workers in the Field in youth ministry talks and Bible studies. And, using it because I loved it. "We are all 5:00 workers, aren't we? That's the beauty of it. None of us are the all-day workers, even if we think we are." The parable hadn't changed, but I, and my understanding of myself in relationship to it certainly had. No longer was it a parable that I just had to grit my teeth and deal with even though it wasn't fair. It had become a beautiful story of God's mercy to all of us!

So, I ran a 6.5 mile trail race yesterday. I went out right at the pace I intended, made a bit of a move at the half-way point, and timed my push just right so that I hit the finish line just as I ran out of energy. And, I ran about 5 seconds per mile under 10:00 pace! It was a really challenging course, but I'd be lying if I said I'd have run a ton faster on a flat course.

You see, I have become the runner I used to disdain. This 6.5 mile run was the longest I've run in 2 years. A year ago, I missed 2 months of the summer not running at all as I did physical therapy for my arthritic hip. My goals going into the race yesterday were, "Don't get hurt. Finish. If possible, run all the hills. Enjoy the beauty of Forest Park (here in Portland, OR)." I met all of my goals. I felt great about the morning and my performance! I saw a few young, light studs jogging back out the course chatting easily as they cooled down at a pace faster than I was running as I lumbered home. But, I know something they don't know (yet). I know that it is all gift. It is all grace. Even, my lumbering 10:00 miles.

I am now a 5:00 worker, both in my spiritual life and in my running and that is a very good thing to be.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What is it about Story? Is there anything we want to say that we can't say best in a story?

I read a lot of theology books. I enjoy many of them and I learn quite  bit from most of them so this is not an anti-intellectual screed.

That said, if I were to list the 3-4 books that have really fed my soul over the last year or spoken to me in terms of things I'm wrestling with, none of them would be Christian books on theology or scripture per se.

I would list novels. Here are 4 that I have read in the last year and loved:

Mary Doria Russel's The Sparrow (and its sequel) The Children of God.
Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.
Shusaku Endo's Deep River.
Marilynne Robinson's Gilead.

They are all books that deal with God or Christian themes in one way or another. They are all complex, layered, beautiful and, at times, disturbing (particularly The Sparrow). Each is filled with a fair bit of theologizing, or making theological statements about meaning, who we are, who God is, suffering, etc.. And yet, none of them preach at you or lecture. They draw you into their stories and characters and invite participation.

Occasionally, I'll end a book of theology and wish there was more. Not often, though. With these, I find myself living in the worlds they create well after I've read the last page. Even dreaming about them. I stay up until 4 in the morning finishing them and am saddened when the last page comes.

Is this just me? It seems to me that story is central to what it is to be human. As Alisdair McIntyre and Stanley Haurwas say, "We cannot know who we are until we know the story of which we are a part." We are hungry for stories. We are story-tellers. We are shaped by our stories. The God of Israel was not the God of theological abstraction, but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. A God known by the stories of those who had interacted with God. Jesus communicated the truths of the Kingdom of God in stories.

And yet, in ministry, we are suspect of stories. They're fine for warming up the room. Getting folks' attention, getting them to laugh, be with us, but when it's time to really communicate the Big Things, we move to propositions and abstractions. We talk conceptually about love, faith, forgiveness when we could tell stories. "A certain man had two sons..."or "A man wanted to throw a great banquet and invited many guests..."

Do we not trust stories? Do we not trust our audiences, or ourselves as tellers? Is that why we need to follow them up with, "Now, let me tell you the three points you should take from that...?" What if we just shut up and let the story be? Do we just need to maintain control and propositions let us do that?

If we have a theological idea so complex it can't be communicated in a story, is it worth telling? Is it real?

In youth ministry, we want to be a part of shaping and forming young people as followers of Jesus. I suspect spending less time in Paul and more time telling the stories of the Gospels (and the OT) might help us do that better.

God is a story.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why do so many youth ministry kids end up leaving the faith in their 20s?

This is a question that has bothered me for well over a decade, both watching it in my own personal ministry and observing it to be true in almost all youth ministry models in the U.S. . Here is the reality. We are MUCH better at getting kids in the door of our ministry and a preliminary profession of faith than we are at creating life-long disciples. We lose students by the droves.

Take a look at this outline. Does it seem to hit at what roles how we do youth ministry might play in this crisis? There are obviously many factors at play and there certainly are lots of individuals who come to lasting faith through youth ministry. But, why do we lose so many?

Here is my outline.

Leaving Youth Group, Leaving Faith
            (We can rescue the vanishing generation in the church. We just have to change most of how we think about youth ministry).

What needs to change?

We are great at weddings, and not so good at marriages.
(Looking at group numbers and para-church conversions, youth ministry looks to be in great shape. Where are these kids 10 years later?).

Giving black and white answers in an increasingly gray world.
 (Leaving students ill-equipped to deal with the questions, doubts and challenges to faith that come after high school).

Orphans in their own home.
(We have students deeply immersed in the culture of your youth group or ministry, but with no sense of their place in the larger body of Christ and the larger working of God in history).

Bait and Switch. Selling grace, delivering legalism.
(Kids come into faith through our beautiful presentations of grace and leave when they fail and feel our judgment).

Just another narcissistic fix.
(Preaching a self-centered Gospel instead of Jesus’ message of ‘reconciling all things’).

The Myth of Superman.
(We project and certainty and perfection when our students are yearning for transparency and honesty).

What do you think?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The most important thing in youth ministry?

I teach a few youth ministry classes every year at George Fox. One of the questions that arise is, "What's the most important thing to focus on in youth ministry?" Programming, content, evangelism, discipleship?

Another way of putting this might, "How do we most impact a young person's life in youth ministry? What brings the most transformation?"

I've been toying with the idea that none of the things we typically identify to answer this question are what really matters the most. A statement I overhead from one of our Young Life kids back in Iowa City (circa 1999) illustrates what I mean. A weekly event in our ministry was 30-40 kids and 12-15 leaders gathering in our basement every Sunday evening for singing, sharing, laughing, reading the Bible together and talking about it. One of the ways we'd typically start the evenings was with "30 second sharing." (thanks, Katie Cook Iverson!). Kids and leaders would break into groups of three and literally have 30 seconds each to answer some easy questions (What was the highlight of the week? What TV show do you like best and why?) before taking more time to pray for each other. This particular week, one of the questions was, "What is your favorite place in the world?"The 2 kids in my triad were sharing things like, "This place in Florida we've gone to for spring break," but I could hear the group directly behind me and one of the seniors in that group said something very different.

"This basement. Hands down. The couple hours here every Sunday is far and away my favorite place in the world." 

What was he saying? Most likely, a lot of things, but as I've thought about it over the years, I've begun to come to this. What if it's much less important how many verses he expound upon that explicate the doctrine of grace than that we create communal places where grace is lived out? Or, if it's less important how excellent our games or worship ensembles are compared to the quality of unbridled enthusiasm with which we meet kids as they walk through the door?

The Bible talks a good bit about Shalom; God's sense of peace, wholeness, well-being, things-as-they-were-meant-to-be. We can describe that to kids and maybe even read verses about it, but what if they've never felt the reality of this in their actual lives? 

What if the primary task of a Young Life leader, or youth pastor is to create a place where Shalom happens? Might that have more life-transforming value than brilliantly crafted Bible studies? Might a young person who has lived and tasted of grace, welcome, acceptance, peace, forgiveness in a tangible way be better equipped to follow Jesus over the long haul than a kid who's been well-entertained by our hilarious skits and excellently educated by our biblical exegesis? 

At the end of Job, Job says to God, "Previously I had heard of you, but now I have seen you, experienced you." (my paraphrase). Does much of your youth ministry create kids who have heard of Jesus, heard of grace, learned ideas about forgiveness, love and community, but have not truly experienced them? 

I suspect that this is what that senior was describing. Somehow, there was something real and tangible in the experiences he had week after week in our basement that spoke to him of God's Shalom. 

I suspect that most of us that have had young people come into faith through our ministries in a way that really sticks for life, intuitively know this. We've had kids come home from college and share how much they miss the ministry, even though they don't reference our awesome talks or games. So, why then, do we dedicate so many books, seminars and planning meetings to working on programs if they aren't really the heart of ministry?


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How would I communicate the Good News? An essay I wrote that won a contest (how about that?).

A few years back, a few of my friends suggested I enter an essay contest EmergentVillage was having in the run-up to Easter of that year. The contest was to submit fresh ways to talk about the atonement. I did and, much to my surprise, won. That essay, became the genesis of the book I wrote a year or so later: Embraced: Prodigals at the Cross.

Here's that essay.

Three Stories of Grace
At the very heart of the Christian faith is the death of Jesus on the cross. The vast majority of Christians would affirm, in some way, that ‘Jesus saves us from our sins.’ That said, what in the world really happened there? What did it mean? How did Jesus dying on the cross ‘save’ us? From what? From God’s anger?
Christians have wrestled with these questions and more for 2000 years. Predominantly, especially over the last 400 years or so, we have done this in the world of ‘concepts’ and ‘propositions’. I’d like to propose a different way of looking at it. Not a way that will answer every question or cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘I’, but a way that I think is true to the heart of the story of scripture, true to God and in a way that makes sense to how we actually experience ourselves in the world.
I believe God, in both the Old Testament and the New, gives us two very interesting clues, or frameworks through which to understand the cross. In both cases, the clues come in the same way, the telling of stories.
In the Old Testament book of Hosea, God directs Hosea to enter into a marriage, a living story of sorts, to illustrate the way God feels about Israel (and by extension, all of us). In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is asked why he spends so much time with ‘sinners’, he answers by telling three stories, the key of which is the third, a story about a father who had two sons. In both cases, I believe, God is saying, “Do you want to know who I am, what I’m about? Let me tell you a story.” These stories tell us worlds about whom God is, what is wrong with us and what Jesus’ life and death were about.
Unrequited Love
God tells Hosea to marry Gomer because what happens in his relationship with his wife will mirror God’s relationship to Israel. We don’t know how quickly, but things go horribly wrong. Gomer cheats on Hosea. Not once, but repeatedly and brazenly. Amazingly, Hosea’s love is undaunted by the humiliation and rejection he receives from Gomer.
At various points he showers her with gifts to win her love again. She takes them and gives them to her lovers. He devises romantic schemes; to ‘take her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her’ (a romantic picnic with personally written love poems) to woo her back. To no avail.Hosea can’t stop loving Gomer. She rejects him at every turn. This isn’t just a story about two people. Remember, the whole point here is God saying, “This is me. This is how I love you, Israel!” Where any spouse would reject the one who had caused so much pain, Hosea loves on. Of course he does, his love mirrors God’s.
A Ridiculous Dad
Ancient Jewish culture had a very strict sense of honor. To be the male head of a family was to be the center of a world built around the giving and maintaining of your honor. If a Jewish father was shamed by a child, maintaining honor took precedence over familial love. True disgrace brought literal exclusion from the family. A father would hold a funeral for the offending child. All mention of him would be forbidden. “How is your son?” “What son, I have no son. My son is dead.” That is the way of honor.
How shocking then when Jesus tells a story about a very different Dad. A Dad whose youngest son has come to him demanding that the father liquidate his assets so the son not have to wait until the father’s death to get his share of the family inheritance. Basically, “Dad, I wish you were dead. All you are to me is an obstacle to wealth.”
The father does it. And, what’s even more amazing, he doesn’t have the expected funeral for his insolent son.
Let’s be really clear here, before going on. This story is NOT about the son. It comes as the last of a group of three stories (the lumping of three ideas together being profoundly significant in Jewish culture) all of which are on the same theme. Something precious has been lost and the one who has lost it will not rest until it is found. A shepherd with a lost sheep, a woman with a lost coin, a father with a lost son. This is not a story about the son, but about the father.
The Road to the Cross
We were created for relationship. With God, with one another. And for awhile, we experienced that. In Genesis, for awhile, God walked in the Garden with Adam. Adam and Ever were naked, but not ashamed (free from the need to hide, free from self- consciousness).
Quickly things go wrong. Whatever one things of the historicity of the snake and the apple, the ‘truth’ of the story is irrefutable. Humanity begins to focus upon itself. To value ‘self’ above all else, to ‘want what I want’, to turn from the open arms of God. Like Gomer turns from Hosea, like the son takes the money and runs from his father, humanity walks away from God.
BUT, like Hosea, God won’t rest with that. He pursues. He woos. First with one man, Abraham and then with his family. Later, rescuing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt only to be rejected by them. As the Israelites head out into 40 years of suffering in the wilderness because of their rebellion, God does an amazing thing, something never before experienced by humanity. God says, “Build me a tent, because I’m coming with you.”
The story of God is now set in motion. Act I: we are loved by God and created to relate to God. Act II: we walk away from Love. Act III: God ‘hears the cry of my people
crying out in their suffering and have set about to rescue them’ and says, in the face of humanities suffering, ‘I will dwell with you. I will enter in.’
Over a 1000 years later Jesus is born. Jesus is ‘Emmanuel, God with us.’ This isn’t a new idea in the mind of God. This is who God is. This is the God who suffers with Israel in the wilderness. This is the God who tells Hosea to keep loving. This is a God who is like a father who does not disown the son who has brought him shame.
From Very Bad to Much Worse
Things unravel for Gomer. One can rely on looks and sensuality for only so long. Eventually she becomes a prostitute. Even that dries up. In ancient Israel, if one becomes so destitute that one’s debts can’t be paid, you could sell yourself as a slave. That is what it comes to for Gomer.
Things aren’t any better for the son. He lives the highlife for awhile, but the money runs out and things get desperate. In the end, he takes a job working for a pig farmer, standing up to his knees in pig manure envying the slop they have to eat. He thinks to himself, “Even slaves in my father’s house had it better than this.”
Humanity is lost. Like Gomer and like the son we have wandered far from home and can’t find our way back. Our efforts to be god of our own lives end up as bankrupt and desperate as Gomer’s indebtedness and the son’s filth wallowing hunger.
What would YOU do?
Hosea shows up for the sale. Why not, right? After who knows how many humiliations and wounds it’s time for a little payback. Why not go watch the final degradation of the one who’s hurt him so much. This ought to be good.
The son hits on a plan. “I can’t go home again. That’s gone. Dad has had a funeral for me. I no longer have a father. BUT, maybe I can be HIS slave instead of this filthy pig farmer’s. That would be better than this.” And so he sets off with a plan. He knows what he’ll have to do. His father probably won’t consent to see him. He’ll make him wait outside the door. Eventually, maybe he’ll be allowed in. Of course, he’ll have to crawl into his father’s presence, face scraping the floor to confess his sin and pitch his plan. Hopefully, if he grovels enough, and because he remembers what a good master his father is, his father will relent and allow him to become a slave.
This is how God is with us, right? All those Old Testament sacrifices. “I’m pissed off, but if you burn enough animals, maybe you can buy me off.” It’s a pretty natural way to view what happens in the Old Testament. Especially, if we think, “how would I respond if I were God, Hosea, the father?” The vital thing to realize is that God is NOT like us, however. God has already placed Israel in a unique relationship, the sacrifices help maintain the gift already given.
Things take a stunning turn
Hosea not only shows up at the auction, he makes a bid. He must REALLY want revenge, right? Not enough just to watch Gomer’s humiliation, he’s going to buy her back and keep the payback coming! BUT...he doesn’t. As Gomer walks down from the
block, Hosea says something unbelievable to her. “I have bought you, not that you should call me master, but that you would call me Husband.” After everything, Hosea’s still bent on reconciliation! Still bent upon a return to a relationship of love!
The father sees the son, the son he should have ‘buried’ long ago and does NOT retreat to his seat of honor, giving the servant’s instructions on how the humiliation will play out. HE humiliates HIMSELF. He sets off on a series of actions that pile humiliation and shame upon any Jewish male who would do them. He runs in public. He embraces his swine crap caked son. He kisses him, showing emotion in public! He removes his cloak and ring (signs of prestige, position and honor) and places them on his son! The son launches into his speech, but the father shuts him up. “You were dead and now you are alive. You were lost and now you are found!” Again, a father not bent on payback and retribution but upon reconciliation and relationship. None of his actions make sense in the world of honor, they only make sense in the world of reconciliation and love.
God goes to the cross. Jesus, who is still just as much Emmanuel~God with us on the day of his death as he was on the day of his birth, goes to the cross. Gomer’s indebtedness had to be paid off. The son’s shame had to be removed. The sin of humanity has to be dealt with. But, just as Hosea’s goal is not retribution but restoration and just as the father shames himself to be relationally restored with his son, Jesus does not go to the cross to pay off God’s wrath. He goes to the cross to complete the restoration to relationship that God the Father has yearned for from the start.
Reconciliation comes at a great cost to Hosea and to the father. Both set aside honor and ‘their rights’ to bring reconciliation to the one they love. They, the innocent party, ‘bear the penalty’, the shame brought on by another, in order to restore the one that was lost. Likewise, Jesus, the visible expression of God’s heart toward humanity, endures the cross. Not to ‘satisfy the wrath of God’ but to satisfy God’s love.
Hosea to Gomer, father to son, God to humanity: “Welcome home! I’ve missed you so!”